Finding life in the remote, intimate airways of your mind
I have few hard and fast memories from when I was a young boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana that weren’t seeped into memory from photographs. Pedaling my banana seat bike down the flat-ass dead end street on which we lived. Watching Christmas shows from a tiny gap in the eye patch I wore to correct a lazy eye. Small mishaps that left lasting scars: a dropped cookie jar lid, wet pool deck, one soul-crushing situation involving a homemade birthday cake and my kindergarten crush. But one that stands out in particular and for no obvious reason is one of me sitting cross-legged atop our small kitchen table, head tilted back, eyes lifted, and gazing intently at a black, cat-shaped wall clock.
I have no idea how long I would sit like this but I sense it was for a span far longer than one should spend watching a clock of any shape or location (also in our house we had a coo-coo clock which would’ve made much better use of my attention as well as clearing my schedule a bit as it would’ve required me to be present only at the top of the hour).
I can tell you it was not for any entertainment factor either. The table was hard, covered in yellow (I think) vinyl, and positioned against the wall directly beneath the cat, who was itself unremarkable. The tail didn’t swing back and forth, there were no goofy, googly eyes. I don’t even think the tiny cat hands moved, not in the sense that you could actually see them pass from one minute to the next. And now that I’ve processed this memory fully here and now maybe that was what made an impression on me, that time could pass without seeing it happen, without feeling much of anything at all other than a little minor discomfort of having to sit in such an awkward, chin-lifted position, which, now that I write it, speaks incredibly well to the effect time has on the body.
Moving on. To be clear, I wasn’t an unhappy child. This was not some early crisis of identity or inner struggle concerning the meaning of life. I was five, maybe six years old. I took breakfast in front of a black and white TV watching reruns of Underdog and Atom Ant. I lived in a house with a pool. I took breakfast, wtf? (But thanks, Mom!)
How was it then that I could let a clock, a thing for which how we record time spent is of critical importance, so easily arrest the very thing it measures?
As they say here in Italy, chissà, who knows. I do know that whenever someone, my mother most likely, would finally tell me to get off the table—adding the qualifier, we eat there!—I would smile to myself as I climbed down, as if I knew something no one else did, not even her. As if in my small mind I held a truly special and terrible secret. Time was not real.
Of course, that’s just me looking back through fifty decades—how brutal a bitch time can be after all—remembering the person I was back then, trying to conjure whatever might’ve been my then-personality to prove that sitting there watching a kitty-cat walk clock was not, for certain, an early precursor of some existential declaration that life has no meaning, time is a false human construct and no one is who they think they are.
That’s a lot of mental heavy lifting, so it seems unlikely. Even for a six-year old from Fort Wayne.
But then, maybe there is something worth looking at there, something expired perhaps, something in the thinking of that six-year old boy which fifty years of life had utterly exhausted and entirely evicted. After all…
“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” — Charles Bukowski
To this point, I’ve recently discovered a book titled My Struggle, by Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, who goes to great lengths, over the course of six volumes, 3,600 pages, to capture the endless cacophony of feelings, things, people, places and experiences that make up a life. A “commitment” as one reviewer wrote, “to the quotidian details of his life… like a whale filtering krill.”
On the surface(s), reading a book that’s compared to krill doesn’t seem to be a thing I would enjoy (says the kid who used to watch a clock tick). But I can appreciate anyone willing to distill and divulge the often ugly, unruly, selfish, and ongoing train-wreck that is the creation of becoming oneself, so kudos to Knausgaard for giving it a go. I wish more of us had the willingness and wherewithal to look at ourselves with such ordinary, unfiltered infatuation. Because any endeavor to sift through everything we know about our true selves is sure to give our lives more shape and greater meaning.
Reality, however, is as elusive as time was in the hands of that cat clock I sat watching. It’s hard to say which true self should we be diving into. The six-year old self? The eighteen? Thirty-four? Fifty-eight? Knausgaard’s answer was All of the Above.
It gets sloppy for sure. We all tend to have a bit of Walter Mitty in us. A bit of ordinary mixed with escapism mixed with imagination—and maybe even heroics—so where does that leave us? Which You are you drafting the story of? The one You believe you are? The one others say you are? Or the one you long to become if and when you stop daydreaming and start discovering and living the extraordinary adventure that life can become.
Which version of You are You?
It’s not an uncommon question. Rilke addressed it nearly a hundred years ago, with his Letters to a Young Poet:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Yes, that’s easier said than done, perhaps none so more than now, with our 24/7 connectivity to the Universe of Everything; and yes, as time goes, the older you get the more urgent arriving at the answers becomes.
But if we can, just for a short while, think back to ourselves as little people, when the passing of time was no threat to our sense of self, when we could not even imagine the world where our ordinary, messy lives might lead us to answers to questions not yet raised, we might then discover, as the Walter Mitty from a much more recent version did, that “to see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
Speaking of Finding Life in the remote, intimate airways of your mind, how about sharing it with a few others. Newsletters, blogs and such are excellent ways of tellling your story. Without Envy was originally meant to help myself, and then others, better understand what life is like raising a child with Type One Diabetes. If you have something you'd like to share, please consider Ghost, the platform I use here, to tell it. Use this link to learn more. Have specific questions, shoot me an email.